“Once you’ve embraced failure, you no longer fear it.”

There are things that sound good in theory, but are complete bullshit in practice, and that statement is one of them. For the past decade or so, I’ve held on to the notion (and very strongly) that any person or group working on a project of any kind should not only accept failure, but embrace it, and sometimes encourage it.

That’s the rallying cry of the startup world. Failure only means you’ve disqualified a certain path as a road to success and now have a better shot. “I have not failed; I’ve only found a thousand ways that don’t work.” Someone said that once; supposedly, probably. It’s all good in theory. Today I am part of that world, and I believe(d) deep in my core that I’ve accepted and embraced failure as part of my journey.

Until I didn’t. I failed people this year. It hurts.

It’s great — okay, that’s a stretch — to fail as a team, or to watch someone else fail. You sit in a circle and talk about why that happened and how you can do better next time. Then, you give each other a hug, and if it’s not a crushing, debilitating failure, you pick yourselves back up and keep moving. Failing alone doesn’t feel the same. Failing alone, and failing those around you alone, is a soul wrenching feeling, because you know it was you, and only you, who’s responsible. Coming to terms with that is hard. It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating. It’s disappointing to those you trust, and those who trust you (yourself included). “I trust you, but you’ve failed us.” I see their eyes saying, and on occasion their lips move and I hear the words.

There’s no amount of “embrace it” that’s going to fix that. And in that moment you have no excuse. Yes, you might’ve been in a little over your head, but why didn’t you ask for help? That’s on you. You might’ve lacked this, or that, but why didn’t you ask for help? That’s on you. That’s on you. That too, is on you. And then you’re faced with the inevitable question, screaming, howling at you — “Am I incompetent?”

I object to your thought about how this is impostor syndrome, and that we all suffer from it. I object. Violently. Impostor syndrome, while painful, is an illusion. Knowing that you suffer from some level of general incompetence is not that. When you’ve failed, and I mean that in the literal sense of the word, and in its simplest form is making a promise and not meeting it, while having the illusion in your mind that you’re doing your best, and doing your best, and doing your best, until you realize that your best isn’t great. There is no escape. It shrinks you, and makes you feel like a little mouse; a mouse with one little job they’ve no idea how to do.

As I ponder upon this, I ask myself — Have I truly failed everyone, or have I merely found ways that do not work? I don’t know. What I do know, clearly, and thoroughly, is that I don’t like this feeling, and I am ashamed to face it.

When you fail alone, you fail alone. No one’s eager to sit with or join you. “It is you who fucked up, why should I partake in that? I’m good.” These feelings may be pathetic, or childish, or immature, but they’re there, and I wish that when I, in that moment, turned my head to the left, and to the right, that I saw familiar faces, and not furniture.